Evaluating Surgery Centers

In the last decade, we have witnessed a dramatic upsurge in the number of independent surgery centers across the country. These centers offer an alternative to hospitals when an overnight recuperative period in a hospital setting is deemed unnecessary. Surgery centers may perform medical procedures such as colonoscopies, cataract removal, joint repairs and spinal injections. More than two-thirds of operations performed in the United States now occur in outpatient centers, some of which are owned by hospitals. The number of centers that qualify for Medicare reimbursement increased by 41 percent between 2003 and 2011, from 3,779 to 5,344, according to federal statistics. In 2006 nearly 15 million procedures were performed in surgery centers; by 2011 the number had risen to 23 million. Most of these surgery centers are owned at least in part by doctors who have financial incentives to refer their surgical patients to them.
The recent death of Joan Rivers brought increased scrutiny to these facilities. In that particular case, the surgery center was cited for numerous medical errors and failure to follow established surgical policies and procedures. So, how safe are these surgery centers?